Demons, possessions, and exorcisms: Sean McCloud on “Spiritual Warfare”

How should one approach the study of demons and spiritual warfare? In this conversation with University of North Carolina, Charlotte professor Sean McCloud, demons, possessions, and exorcisms that might have once been considered fringe or marginal elements of the American religious scene are now part of a robust “haunted” or supernatural landscape.

Today the spiritual warfare movement that began in mission fields in South America and Africa is now institutionalized in the charismatic New Apostolic Reformation churches as well as popularized in film and cinema. Where should we place haunted objects in the world of religious studies? What do we do with figures like Peter Wagner who led the supernatural movement and then found himself attacked by his allies?

What we find is a transnational interest with demons that has yet to be fully charted or explained. McCloud argues that rising supernatural interest coincides with consumerism and neoliberal capitalism. In the spiritual warfare manuals that serve as his primary data, capitalist and even therapeutic language seems to mark this as a product that borrows from a wide range of 20th century themes. Even perceived enemies of evangelicalism—like the soft metaphysical stylings of The Secret—become fodder for incorporation into the spiritual warfare paradigm. Welcome to the supernatural turn!

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2 replies
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    Richard Saville-Smith says:

    I’m reading Moshe Sluhovsky’s Believe Not Every Spirit – Possession, Mysticism & Discernment in Early Modern Catholicism and this interview is spookily reminiscent. Sluhovsky paints a brilliant picture of exorcism as a healing strategy being transformed into a tool of persecution; a mental health therapy transformed into a means of punishing difference and divergence, cf the witchcraft trials. I guess it’s helpful for academics to study the protagonists of ‘spiritual warfare’, but the historical antecedents are totally relevant!

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    Karen Zoppa says:

    This seems to corroborate Grace Janzen and Dyan Elliot’s observations about the relationship between power and gender, on the one hand , and that deemed “authorized” and/or “heretical” ojn the other.


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